Mental Health. Everyone has it and just like physical health, it is changeable. I’m sure some of you reading this may feel you’re sick of hearing about it. I’ve definitely heard it said more than a few times. I would hazard a guess to say if you are sick of hearing about it, you are in the very fortunate position to have never experienced the distress of poor mental health. This is fantastic for you, but it doesn’t negate the problem. This is a very real public health issue that is affecting our children, young people and wider society.
In 2019, there were 5,691 suicides registered in England and Wales. Around three-quarters of registered deaths in 2019 were among men (4,303 deaths), which follows a consistent trend back to the mid-1990s. Despite having a low number of deaths overall, rates among the under 25's have generally increased in recent years, particularly 10 to 24 year-old females where the rate has increased significantly since 2012 to its highest level with 3.1 deaths per 100,000 females in 2019. (ONS 2020)
I can only deduce that the current global situation with COVID-19 and the associated restrictions will have some sort of negative effect on these figures, or at least a detrimental effect on the mental health of young people as a whole. 2020 has undoubtedly been a tough one and while isolation has been difficult for most, it has been unbearable for some.
This year hasn’t been great, but the one thing it has made us do is stop to think. That has been hard for many children and adults included. Being with our thoughts and in our own company has forced us to consider many things that would have usually been pushed down by our busy lives. But maybe, this time to think can be used for good. Maybe things that have risen to the surface need to be discussed. Maybe this can avoid some tragedies.
But what do we do? How can we help? I’ve seen numerous social media campaigns in recent months relating to the importance of good mental health and that’s great, but it can’t stop there. It can feel like a daunting prospect talking about mental health if you’re not accustomed to it, but it needn’t be. What is really at the bones of it, is honest communication. You don’t need to worry about having the right words or saying the wrong thing. The fact that you are truly interested and present in the situation is often enough to make a difference.
I think what many of us underestimate is the power of our undivided attention. To be truly listened to is so overwhelmingly powerful. Think about the last time you felt like that. When you were listened to, understood. I’d hazard a guess that you remember it with fondness, that it made you feel good, valued. Listening without agenda or the need to reply with an opinion, is a wonderful thing. You don’t need to have the answers; you need to let someone find their own.
Unfortunately, in today’s world having or giving undivided attention can be hard to come by. We are busy, we are distracted and we are surrounded by stimulus vying for our attention. I say, let’s at least try. I’m not saying that’s easy, I struggle to do it. To put down the phone, to ignore the emails, but it’s so important. When we stop, we notice. We notice subtle changes in our children, our friends, our partners. Then we ask the question and listen. ‘How are you feeling?’ and if the answer is ‘fine’, we maybe ask again.
I wish you all the most wonderful Christmas and hope you get time to spend with the people you love the most.
(Operations Manager / Trainee Psychotherapist)
"GET A JOB!"
"CAN'T FEED YOUR KIDS BUT GOT A PHONE?!"
I hadn't planned to wade in on this matter or write our first blog about this particular subject. Far from it. But, in all good conscience, it can also not go unchallenged from those professionals who know more about it than most.
To be clear from the outset, this blog is not meant to sensationalise or create a huge debate. It is simply written from the point of view of a youth and community worker, based on real life observations, decades of experience and growing frustrations.
So here goes:
Child poverty IS increasing. Most certainly to the worst levels I have seen in 20 years of working in children and adult services. Child poverty, in 2020, in this borough (Stockton-on-Tees), looks like:
Parents who are stressed out, struggling and trying their best. Parents feeling pressure to provide. Parents worrying about how long they can have the heating on for and praying that their child will eat what they have made for dinner because it's all that they have. Parents who know the price of almost every item in Aldi and Lidl because they have to work out what they can afford before they get there so that they don’t suffer the burning embarrassment, of their card being declined at the till. Parents experiencing the gnawing guilt when their child asks if they can have a treat and they have to say no because they need to buy toilet roll instead.
And yes, the numbers of children affected are marginal in comparison to the overall number of children in the borough. And yes, children of previous generations have experiences of dreadful poverty too. No-one would ever dismiss that. And yes, 100% there are parents out there who are not doing enough. And yes, there are adults abusing the benefit system.
BUT, believe this - as community based workers, at the front line of youth services, knowing our families, as we do; 9 times out of 10, where real poverty exists, none of those features are contributory. Increasingly the issue is not just linked to families who are in receipt of benefits. There is a significant issue with the working poor,a problem that does not just exist as a result of COVID.
Please know this - that even where those unappealing contributory factors are the cause, the outcome is the same. Children are hungry and cold. Children are unable to reach their potential. Children have a lack of energy to focus and learn. Children have lowered aspirations. After all how can a child be creative and maintain drive when their most basic needs are not routinely met?
The issue of child poverty is complicated. Inequality has, and always will, exist.
But one thing is for sure, in the year 2020, living in one of the richest nations in the world, levels of child poverty should not be increasing.
Whilst this anecdote seems to paint a grim local picture, it actually represents the national experience too. In fact, in this borough, we are very fortunate. The Local Authority and the fabulous Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) are working hard to identify and support those families with the greatest need.
There is no 'one stop' solution to this issue. It takes partnership, connections, trust, knowledge of communities, an innovative approach to tackling food poverty (doff of the hat to Cultivate Tees Valley, Barefoot Kitchen and Little Sprouts), the creation of meaningful opportunities, hard work, commitment and a localised approach.
In all of the sad encounters listed, help & support was offered in abundance once identified. In fact a whole lot more could be written about what is being done locally to tackle these issues, which is really uplifting! 💗
The sad fact is, that the issues exist in the first place and are only uncovered sporadically. The purpose of this is not to take away from the efforts of those attempting to address the issue, which includes ourselves. It is simply an account.
An account that is an absolute 'up yours' to all those who doubt that the problem exists. Or worst still, acknowledge it exists and pour scorn and judgement upon those affected, because let's face it, that helps absolutely no-one. Ever.
Mic drop 🎤
By Lucy Bentley
Quality Improvement Coordinator and DSO for Corner House Youth Project
Welcome to our blog! We have decided to add to our regular updates on social media, with a monthly blog. We hope to to give you some insight into our work at Corner House Youth Project and what drives us in the work that we do.
We are going to feature a different topic and viewpoint each week, ranging from hearing from our core staff and their day to day work, to posts from our young people and the issues they are passionate about.
We would also love to feature community members and professionals either locally (Stockton-on-Tees) or across the country and world! Please get in touch if you have a topic in mind and would like to contribute.
We look forward to hearing from you!